When we left off last week, I was telling you about the bond created between New Orleans and New York City in the aftermath of 9-11. I spoke of a fire truck built for New York City. (I mistakenly referred to it as the Pride of Louisiana. For that I apologize; the name is the Spirit of Louisiana.)
Today, a bit more about that truck and its remarkable story. When Ron Goldman from Louisiana decided that New Yorkers needed help, he took action. He placed a call to a the weekly radio show of the then governor Mike Foster suggesting that a fire truck be built and sent to New York City to help replace those lost on 9-11. And soon thereafter the “Bucks for Trucks” fundraising drive began. School kids donated their lunch money and held fund raisers. Many other organizations got on board, and fundraising yielded $1.2 million. Within 45 days, the “Spirit of Louisiana” was built! And there was enough money left to build two more trucks (all told, Louisiana sent 9 vehicles).
As the truck headed north to be delivered it was met along the way at the state lines by local fire companies. It is said that as the truck passed through Mississippi some 100 fire trucks provided an escort. Many folks from Louisiana proudly accompanied the truck on its trek to New York City. It was quite an achievement for a very poor state…and Louisianans were proud.
At the time I worked as the Global Director of BCP for Avaya – the same company Ronnie Goldman worked for. A dear friend at Avaya came to my office one rainy morning in the very late fall of 2002 and said, “we are going to Brooklyn, come on get your coat.” I said, “Marty, what’s in Brooklyn.” To which he replied, they are dedicating another fire truck from Louisiana in Brooklyn, and we are meeting Ronnie Goldman there. So, we went from our mid-town Manhattan office to Brooklyn and saw the dedication and even got to climb aboard. And in some small way we became a part of history. Ron Goldman, when we spoke last week, said, “I’m just a telephone guy not a firefighter.” But he was welcomed into the community of fire fighters because he simply belonged.
The story clearly does not end there. Roll the tape forward to Katrina. The city of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast was devastated. Lives were lost, homes destroyed, hospitals knocked out of service, and fire- fighting equipment was destroyed as well. New York City (being far more friendly and caring than we sometimes get credit for!) realized that its sister city in the south needed help.
After a few phone calls between New York and Louisiana, a contingent of FDNY fire-fighters headed to Louisiana. It was one day after Katrina hit, and leading the 400-plus fire fighters and some 15 support vehicles was the “Spirit of Louisiana.” Proudly leading the brave FDNY firefighters back to where it was built. The “Spirit of Louisiana” was symbolic of the bravery, pride, and resiliency both cities shared in the aftermath of great tragedies. Some stories report that NYC sent exactly the same number of men it had lost on 9-11. They worked on fixing roofs and helping rebuild, while supporting the local fire departments. The bond is strong and the will and desire to help each other unique.
The “Spirit of Louisiana” is still in service in Louisiana (a permanent gift from NYC) and has had an overhaul or two, but it does duty wherever needed in Louisiana and is truly a symbol of pride for the people of Louisiana and Ronnie Goldman. And it is in that spirit that I head back to New Orleans to offer my help and hope, and it is in that spirit that I invite you to join me.
Director of Volunteerism and Vice President